Fill the Sky with Soaring Birds

Photographers are increasingly willing to modify the way reality is depicted in their photographs--and with tools like digital cameras and photo editing software, it's quite easy to do. But of course, that's not always a good thing, especially in the case of photojournalism.

When done for creative purposes in artistic photos, though, there's nothing wrong with fiddling with reality. You do that sort of thing all the time when you sharpen, blur, or color adjust a photo, of course. But sometimes a photo can benefit from more aggressive edits. Consider a picture that I recently took of Mount Baker in the Olympic Peninsula of Washington.

Despite the relative rarity of seeing Mount Baker (clear days in the Northwest are as rare as new movie offers for Tom Cruise), this photo still lacks interest. It's missing ... something. This week and next, let's add that magic "something" to this scene.

Collect Some Birds

What is the missing ingredient? The real question is what element we can add to the photo that would fit in naturally? Because this photo is largely blue sky, it seems that a few extra birds might be perfect.

As it happens, I also took some shots of birds on the same day. Because the birds were shot under the same sky that appears in the original photo, it should be pretty easy to fit them in. Here are the birds:

Bird 1
Bird 2
Bird 3

Clean Up the Background

Open the background image--Mount Baker--in your favorite photo editing program. I'll demonstrate using Corel Paint Shop Pro.

You might want to begin by improving the photo's contrast to bring out the mountain a little more. To do that, choose Adjust, Brightness and Contrast, Histogram Adjustment. We'll use the histogram tool to extend the range of light and dark pixels in the photo.

Grab the leftmost of the three triangles just below the histogram, and drag it a little to the right. You'll see the graph (and the numbers in the Low box) change as the low hump in the curve extends to the left edge of the graph and the preview image deepen with darker tones.

Then do the same thing with the High slider--grab and move the rightmost triangle to the left until the first "bump" in the graph nears (but doesn't touch) the edge and the preview image shows the glacier getting brighter. Your Histogram Adjustment dialog box should look something like this. Click OK to accept these changes, and you'll see the background image improve. Now save your work for safekeeping.

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Dave Johnson

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